Review: Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood, by Sharon Kay Penman

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Source: Amazon

You can win battles, not the war. You've already lost what you value almost as much as your kingdom. You've lost your sons.
Eleanor of Aquitaine, from Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood is the long-awaited latest installment of Sharon Kay Penman's brilliant Eleanor of Aquitaine series. Preceeded by When Christ and His Saints Slept and Time and Chance, Devil's Brood seamlessly picks up the story of King Henry II and his dysfunctional family just as his eldest children reach adulthood and begin wreaking havoc in Henry's world.

Where Saints and Time and Chance were a recounting of the convoluted politics of the time and the circumstances that led to Henry's grabbing of the crown and his marriage to Eleanor, the famous Aquitaine heiress and former Queen of France, Devil's Brood is a portrait of a family disintegration. Penman was faced with the difficult challenge of supplying credible motivations for these larger-than-life historical figures, something that often cannot be gleaned from pure research. Happily, she exceeded expectations and has produced not only an historically accurate and detailed novel, but a psychological study of a family meltdown.

Penman succeeded in avoiding one-dimensional characters with singular motivations. Like most families, the Plantagenet family falls apart due to human failings still found today: infidelity, immature and rebellious teenagers, pride and stubbornness. Each character has an opportunity to stop this train wreck, yet none do and tragedy ensues.

The only character who escapes Penman's analysis is Rosamund Clifford, Henry's mistress and a thorn in Eleanor's side. Although she has quite a role in the story, it is unfortunate that her motivations are simplistic and a bit of a cliche: she appears to be only an insipid and vapid goody two-shoes. Any sympathy or understanding for her character is difficult to muster and her eventual exit from the Plantagenet's lives is somewhat of a relief, if only because reading about her becomes quite tiring.

Penman is a master of dialogue and Devil's Brood continues her tradition. Few historical fiction authors have the ability to seamlessly weave such pertinent period information into their dialogue. She also provides biting wit, which in the case of Henry and Eleanor is particularly appropriate (how many of us can forget Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn battling it out in The Lion in Winter?)
Aquitaine is one large lunatic asylum, and you clearly ahve been spending too much time there, Eleanor.
Henry II, from Devil's Brood
Fans who have eagerly awaited this release will not, thankfully, be disappointed in this newest Penman novel and I daresay some new fans will be created who will now join in the vigil for the next novel in the series. Whether you must beg, borrow or steal (or perhaps just simply purchase) this book, do so. You won't be sorry you did.

Title: Devil's Brood
Author: Sharon Kay Penman
ISBN: 978-0-399-15526-0
752 pages
Publisher: Putnam Adult
Date: October 7, 2008


  1. Great review! I really want to read the previous volumes. I'll bet they're just as good!


  2. Michele, every time I read one of your reviews of Penman, I think I must give her a try.

    I have a review copy of Devil's Brood. Would it seriously hinder the reading experience to read it without reading the others in the series first?

  3. Lezlie -- I hope you like them as much as I did!

    Shana -- actually, you can read this one alone because Penman is so good about filling you in on the background. But I promise you will want to read the other two later!

  4. Good, Michelle. I really wanted to read this one asap and didn't know when I'd have time to read the others first since I'm overwhelmed w/ review copies right now.

  5. Sharon Kay Penman is one of my all time favorites! I have Devil's Brood sitting here, I have been dying to get started on it. But I have several books I have to do for blog tours in the next week or so, so I've been holding off. There's no way I'm going to rush thru DB after waiting for it for so long!! That was a terrific review, btw.

    Michele, what a great blog! I don't know how I have missed it up to now, but I will be a regular visitor from now on. I'm off to add you to my blogroll...

  6. I started reading all of Sharon Kay Penman's books about 8 months ago and can't seem to stop!! Love them! What a fun and entertaining way to travel through and learn history. I think they should be made into a series like The Tudors.


Fire away!